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Getting Dressed Helped Me Find Myself
01.25.17
English model Twiggy at the launch of her own range of clothing, London, 16th February 1967. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

“After you have a baby everything changes.” This is one of the many unhelpful, hyper-obvious things strangers say to pregnant women. Other top hits include: “Get all the sleep you can now, because you won’t be getting any when the baby comes!” and “Your body will never be the same again!”

As one-offs, these don’t seem like statements that hold much power. But when I heard them every day, multiple times over, punctuated by unauthorized belly rubs and guesstimates of gender based on waist circumference, all of it began to erode a sense of self I’d previously considered a given.

While this doesn’t necessarily happen to all women, this unmooring of (pregnant) self, it certainly happened to me. I gained 70 pounds while carrying the baby, gave birth and then, with the cutting of the umbilical cord, drifted into a brand of existential crisis specific to new motherhood. It was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. I’d always known who I was and what I was about before. Confidence never eluded me and, when paired with a liberal view of what constitutes acceptable daywear, personal style was always an outlet through which that confidence manifested.

It was only natural, then, that a sudden loss of confidence would reveal itself through the way I started dressing myself. While I still had an intense interest in fashion, I began to live by the mantra, “I love it, but I could never wear it.” My reasons orbited the following excuses:

-I was constantly leaking milk
-People would laugh at me
-My body resembled a candle that had melted over the belly of a chianti bottle

I rotated through these reasons until I’d convinced myself that I couldn’t leave the house. For a long time I sat at home in my milk-stained button-down and maternity leggings, waiting for the next event to avoid. And when I started working outside the home again, my newfound anxiety and disdain towards clothing only grew.

This lasted for about a year and a half until an unsuspecting catalyst changed everything. A friend of mine, who happens to be a talented and generous hairstylist, offered to bleach my hair as a gift. This was huge. Not only because I couldn’t afford to get my hair done like I used to, but also because it triggered something in me. It was as if a gear clicked back into its proper place and a piece of my internal self-perception became functional again. I distinctly remember looking at myself in the mirror and noting a flutter of recognition where, previously, there had been none.

After that moment came a cascade of change. I began thinking about outfits I’d like to wear, becoming increasingly intentional about expanding the boundaries of what had become my daily uniform of black, loose, practical clothing. I could feel that old sense of self emerging. When I realized what was connecting me with my old confidence, I started requesting time to be completely alone to get dressed. This initially struck me as a bit frivolous. My partner is also an exhausted working parent, after all. Requesting any time alone felt like asking a lot. I wondered if it was a vapid pursuit, or perhaps vain. Of all the forms of self-care I could engage with — exercise, writing, learning to code — I was choosing to blast R&B and get dressed?

Yes. That’s exactly what I chose. Because it allowed for a deliberate reintroduction to self that I desperately needed. It was a gentle merging of who I was before — the confident, silly, buoyant parts I’d lost — with who I was becoming.

Photo by Keystone via Getty Images.

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  • hearceespeak

    This is fabulous.

  • Thank you for sharing this story. So glad you got your groove back!

    (also really loving the brilliant candle melting over a body of chianti imagery)

    • Molly D

      Yes. Same. So good.

  • Natalie

    Beautiful.

  • Emily Klein

    Thank-you so much for sharing! I travel a lot, and so for the last three years my wardrobe has consisted of clothing that is conservative, that I can layer, that rolls up well and doesn’t take up too much space and that’s comfortable (I do at least manage to steer clear of kathmandu and those pants that zip off and turn into shorts). Having returned home, it’s always hard to get my fashion groove back, so it’s nice to hear of someone else’s style triumph! Good on you for taking some “me time”!

  • hila

    This may be a bit narcissistic, but I recognize myself in your words. Never have I been able to articulate QUITE what was wrong as well as you did! Not PPD. Just a feeling of being trapped in a different body. I’m still me inside here somewhere. *shuffles anxiously through diaper bag…
    Thanks so much for sharing.

  • ladybirda

    My style completely changed after I had a baby. Not only because my body and priorities changed, but because, after surviving a near-death experience, all that twee Anthropologie shit wasn’t cutting it anymore. I didn’t want to wear black because it hid my shape and baby poop stains, I wanted to wear it because I couldn’t stomach anything saccharine.

  • Jessica

    oh my god. it’s been a year since i finished my last cancer treatment. i too am trying to regain a sense of my old self. i am missing a breast – my hair has regrown curly – and i gained more than 20 pounds during chemo (wtf?!). this article is very touching for me. thank you.